Two Sundays ago, I went to “Dance to Breathe”, which was described as Austin’s Choreographer’s Ball benefitting The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The show, which featured a performance from each of Austin’s dance studios – note: Austin has a lot of dance studios – was about two hours long, and made me realize that I’ve been taking classes at one of the best studios in town.
A few months before that night, I’d auditioned for the finale piece of “Dance to Breathe”. It was my first audition ever – outside of trying out for dance team when I was in middle and high school – and the dance was VERY difficult. There were about 40 people crammed into a room made for probably 15, all of us trying our damnedest to “Get in formation” with the style of Beyonce.
When it was my turn to perform what we’d just learned, I basically just froze. I think I did about two moves, and just tried to keep things moving. I knew I wouldn’t get chosen (and I didn’t), and I was okay with that.
The thing is, I’ve never had “real” dance training. I learned general jazz technique at a class held at a gym when I was in 6th grade. My 8th grade dance team experience was more of a pom/cheer moment. Once I got to high school, our dance team performances were held at a dance studio, and we did practice leaps and proper turns between learning new routines.
My freshman year of high school, I was put on the dance team as an alternate, meaning, I had no secure spot on the team; I would only perform if someone was sick or injured. But, I attended a UDA dance camp that summer with a few other girls from the team. We learned some of the most difficult dances I’d ever seen.
We were low-budget, but our coach recorded our practices, and we critiqued ourselves, late into the night, perfecting these new routines to compete with, and eventually perform during basketball half times. My hard work earned me a permanent place on the court that year.
Despite dancing my way through high school, I didn’t perform or practice at all until I moved to Austin. When I was searching for a studio, the thing I liked about this one in particular, was they let anyone who wanted to (and who was willing to pay a fee) perform on stage twice a year in a showcase.
Count me in! I became a member, attend at least three classes a week, and performed at my first showcase in February. I loved it!
And the thing is, I’ve always dreamed of being able to perform, whether it be as a professional halftime dancer or in theatre, knowing that at some point, my body probably wouldn’t be able to sustain a career on that path. Even now, today as I type this, I’m recovering from a neck injury I got last week during a hip-hop class – I’m getting old, guys!
So much to say that I wasn’t upset when I didn’t make the cut for “Dance to Breathe” – dancing isn’t something that comes natural to me. I know I have to work at it, and often, I have to work more at moves that others can pick up in a second.
The host of “Dance to Breathe” was a well-known choreographer named Willdabeast. Here’s the scoop on him, according to his website:
Orignally from Indiana, Will “WilldaBeast” Adams moved to LA to pursue his dance career. Dancing for artists such as Usher, T-Pain, The Black Eyed Peas, Jason Derulo, Zendaya, 5th Harmony, Demi Lovato, GLEE, X-Factor, Nissan, MTV, Butterfinger, and Madonna he found a love for choreography. This allowed him to choreograph for artists including T-Pain, DJ Tiësto, GRL, Erika Jayne, ABDC, So You Think You Can Dance, and Nike.
In 2013, Willdabeast created the dance company immaBEAST and dropped the first official video “Dope”. Since then, immaBEAST has become one of the leading brands, companies, and influences in the hip hop dance world.
During the show, they showed his reel – snippets from the work he’s done – and my jaw was on the floor. And then, when he said he was from INDIANA?!?!! Whaaat?! So cool.
At the end of the show, he said that it was his first time in Austin and he’d never seen a dance community be as supportive as we were to one another – cheering for everyone as they performed on stage. “You don’t get that in LA,” he said.
I thought about my dance studio and how we really do encourage each other to WERK IT. When we’d performed in the showcase, the owner of the studio got on stage and explained to the crowd that everyone was welcome at her studio; it was a place to be accepted. The showcase was the result of that; anyone could get on stage, and we’d practiced our asses off to not look like fools – I’d spent hours in my kitchen, using a broom handle in lieu of a cane, to practice our group routine to “Pony”.
Last weekend, the studio held auditions for their next showcase – their first ever summer performance, and as far as I know, their first time requiring auditions.
I signed up to audition for two pieces; for two of the classes I take each week. I got a good night’s sleep the night before, I put on a little makeup (had to go with the sparkle eyeliner), and went to the audition.
And… it was TOUGH. I think I sweated more during the 30-minute audition than I have in an hour of class. My first audition was in stilettos to Beyonce’s “Freak-’em Dress”. We performed the dance several times, and again if our numbers were called. Mine was; so I went again, as the studio owner stood in front of me with a clipboard.
As we stood there, near-30 of us, in a number-order line as she looked us up and down, then back at the clipboard, I thought again about what she’d said on that stage months before – that everyone could get on stage.
Apparently not anymore.
The thing about auditions is that; they’re grueling, stressful, and oftentimes a giant disappointment – it is, as they say, the nature of the biz. Some people say that auditioning is just something, in itself, that you’ve got to get good at in order to make the cut.
In just these three auditions I’ve had, I’ll say there’s definitely an art to it – technically you’re being judged from the moment you walk in, and I had one choreographer tell me they’ll eliminate you if you dance when he says “listen”. Fair enough. Others have told me to nail the first and last move, or to rock the freestyle part, or to just get really great at facial expressions. It’s a science.
After my back-to-back auditions on Sunday, I was exhausted. I didn’t think I really had a shot at making the cut – although I was proud of myself for not just freezing and standing there like a jackass.
But I went home, and the news of the tragedy in Orlando started to sink in. A club; where people were dancing. Dancing is supposed to be a universal language; the one that breaks the barriers and brings us together. And I know the attack wasn’t against dancing, but it hurts my soul.
To soothe it, I ate cheap ice cream bars and watched approximately nine hours of “Dexter”.
Yesterday morning, my empty email inbox confirmed what I thought – no showcase for me. Sure, I was disappointed. And I bet I will be for a little while. There’s a big chance that my body isn’t cut out for the auditions and performances like it was when I was 16.
But why does it have to be the same people that win over and over? When are they really going to just let us be free; and let us all dance?